I’ve no fears returning to UNILAG after ‘five-year’ rustication –Student activist, Adeyeye

I’ve no fears returning to UNILAG after ‘five-year’ rustication –Student activist, Adeyeye

Femi Adeyeye, a 500 Level student of the Department of Building, University of Lagos, who was rusticated by the institution since 2016 for embarking on a protest against the poor condition of living and learning, tells GODFREY GEORGE he has finally been reinstated by the university five years later

What is your name?

My name is Femi Adeyeye. I am 27 years old. I am a student of Building at the University of Lagos. I am from Ondo State. I gained admission into UNILAG in 2012 and I would have graduated in 2017 if the university’s management hadn’t rusticated me in 2016. The unfortunate incident happened just a year to my graduation.

What really led to your rustication?

There was a series of protests on campus for three days – April 6, 7 and 8, 2016 under the leadership of Professor Rahman Bello. These protests were about the conditions of living and learning at the University of Lagos. There were poor electricity and water supplies.  The situation was so bad at that time that students used to buy sachet water to have a bath on campus. And even at a point, pure water was no longer available, because demand was more than supply.

On April 4 and 5, we, as students, agreed to take a walk to the office of the Dean of Students’ Affairs. On getting there, one professor, who attended to the students, spoke badly to the students, telling them that they didn’t know what they were doing staging a walk instead of reading for their exams. He said a lot of things that infuriated the students and sparked a protest. What you would expect from a 21st century cosmopolitan university is that the management should have come out to address the issue, but that did not happen for three days.

On the third day, the whole campus was shut down and there was no movement. The management then sent a notice that every student must vacate the campus before 10am. They also brought in heavily-armed anti-riot policemen to effect that eviction.

Did you leave the campus following the management’s directive?

Some of us felt this was so wrong and we couldn’t allow that to happen. Students then held the police to ransom and they had to escape at some point. They broke the gate of the university with their armoured tank and drove away.

What exactly did the students do to these policemen who were armed that made them ‘escape’?

The students were not violent at all. We are talking about a large crowd of students here. They were many and were in front of the armoured tanks and at that point, the police could not drive in except they wanted to run over the students. Although something like that nearly happened, knowing the nature of the Nigeria Police, they could not do much because of the large number of students, so they had to look for a way to get out of the university campus that day.

What was the reaction of the management to this development?

They were not pleased. Everyone eventually left the campus as it was shut for two weeks. After then, the management said they had a meeting and reached a resolution that everyone must come back to campus with an indemnity form signed, which contained, in my view, some obnoxious policies and rules. One read that one must be of good character. Being of ‘good character’ would mean that you would not protest. They said everyone must take a re-absorption oath. In other words, they suspended everyone, and for one to come back, it would have to be on these new terms.

They also said the electricity on campus would be rationed from 7am to 7pm every day. They said anytime after that we should not expect power supply. These conditions were written and one had to accept them. Funnily enough, this was happening during the examination period.

Did you sign this indemnity form?

I felt that this was infringing on my rights and even though I was not in the Students’ Union Government, I was leading students in the faculty and department. In the light of this, I took to my Facebook and published an article which I titled: ‘The Senate of the University of Lagos: A conglomeration of academic ignorami’. It is still online, I would want to believe.

I wrote that article sometime in April 2016. Shortly after I made the post, I got a text message on my phone stating that I should pick up a letter in my department. I knew that it won’t be good news. I got to the department and I saw some other student leaders, and I knew it was an attempt by the management to make an example of us.

After some time, I was invited to appear before the university panel and I did. This was after I wrote them a letter to state exactly what they wanted us to discuss because their letter only said we’d have a ‘discussion’. In their reply to my letter, they stated that my Facebook post brought the university into disrepute.

On meeting the panel, how did the ‘discussion’ go?

It was a heated conversation, and till today, I have been asking them for the recording, but I haven’t been able to get that. I said the protest was not violent but they said they had pictorial evidence to prove to me that it was. I was part of the protest from the beginning to the end, and we made sure that no destruction happened on campus.

The chairman of the panel also said I talked about sexual harassment in my Facebook post, and I said I did. This was even before the BBC #SexForGrades documentary, which exposed the issue of sexual relations between lecturers and students in the university. We knew about these things. The session ended more like a moral talk – “You shouldn’t insult your elders…”

But on July 29, 2016, I received a letter stating that I had been rusticated for four semesters. They stated in the letter that they would have expelled me but some people had come to beg them to temper justice with mercy. Some other student leaders were rusticated for two semesters.

What was your reaction to that decision?

We went to court at some point, but the case was struck out on technical grounds. It was a class action filed before the Federal High Court in Ikoyi. At that time, we couldn’t re-file because it was more of an intention. For some of these student leaders, knowing the slow pace of the justice system in this country, they decided to take it in good fate as the rustication was already elapsing. But I had four semesters so I had to just keep fighting. At a point in 2016, I became the National Secretary of the Alliance of Nigerian Students Against Neoliberal Attacks. We used the organisation to fight for rights of student activists all around Nigeria. After I was suspended, comedian Debo Macaroni was also suspended from Redeemers’ University. We had about 33 other student activists who were suspended from FUTO in 2017. We were the ones who led the popular ‘Constituted Authority’ protest of the former Oyo State governor, (the late Abiola) Ajimobi. We mobilised students of LAUTECH down to that place. UNILAG also suspended two student activists – one visually-impaired and one who had already graduated and collected his certificate. They were suspended in 2017 for participating in a protest that was held in 2015. So, it was more of authoritarianism on the part of the university management. Some other activists and I were arrested on Saturday, May 31, 2017 and taken before a mobile court and remanded in Kirikiri Prison where we spent seven days.

How did you regain freedom?

Everywhere in the country was boiling at the time because of the issue and the government had no other choice than to withdraw the charges and we were freed.

At the point you were being arrested and remanded in prison for your activism, were you not scared for your life?

(Laughs) There is nothing to be scared of at all. There is no safe place anywhere in this country. Be you an activist or not, you will still die. People die every day in this country not because they are protesting. It was more of personal conviction than any other thing for me.

When was the expiration of the four-semester rustication?

It came in 2018. Four semesters meant two academic sessions. I wrote to the management at the beginning of the semester, they did not reply. They tactically added another session to the already served two sessions. They sent me a letter of reinstatement four days to the end of the session, which I was supposed to resume. That means I was sent away for three sessions. The interesting twist is that on that same day I received my reinstatement letter, I picked up another letter to appear before another panel. In this new letter, I had seven charges revolving around me protesting and bringing people to campus. All the protests that happened while I was suspended, they listed them out there and linked them to me. Even those I didn’t attend, they said I instigated people to attend. I was there in the company of activist and lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, who briefed me before I entered the panel room. When I got in, my defence was that I do not know why I was invited again as I was not a student while all these protests happened and could not appear before a university panel where I was not a student. I knew they can only invite to the panel a member of the university community. They agreed with me that my defence was correct and I should go ahead and register but they may invite me later.

How come you still couldn’t register online until days ago?

My portal was deactivated for those years. I kept writing letters and visiting the office of the Dean of Students’ Affairs who’d refer me to someone else. There was even a time I wrote a letter to the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, through a senator.

What went through your mind during those years when your portal remained inaccessible?

I knew the game, knowing full well how these things worked. I was fully prepared. I won’t lie about that.

Were your parents aware of all this? What was their disposition?

As African parents, you can imagine their reaction. They kept saying I had killed them, but they had to leave me alone when it even involved national politics.

Were you still getting money from your parents?

That ended a long time ago.

How then did you cope?

I did different legal things. I used to teach in tutorials but so many activities were taking my time so I decided to focus more on what I was studying. I used to draw plans for people and get paid and I also had friends who supported me.

How did you know your portal had become active that Monday?

There were renewed efforts. If I told you I went there to check every day, I would be lying. I had even given up hope. I would not fail to thank Comrade Rashida who had a similar issue in UNIILORIN which spanned for almost 20 years. My father also came into the picture. At some point, I was looking at getting out of the country, because I knew that any federal school I applied to would not take me because of the issue. I also involved an activist lecturer who also helped to plead my cause. This was in December. On January 10, I called him to ask him for an update and he told me to check my portal. After the back and forth with the ICT team, I could now log in.

How did you feel?

I cannot even tell how I felt. I think I felt happy that, at least, I would get this over and done with.

Do you have any concerns as you are going back to the university environment?

To be honest, I have no fears at all. I met with the Head of the Department yesterday (Wednesday). He is now a professor. He was an Associate Professor or so at the time I was rusticated. He was very welcoming and he advised me to focus on my studies. It is a good place. Those I could not meet, I sent them text messages.

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